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"Don't stress yourself too hard!" his parents said. He waited for the usual parental "bye bye!", to no avail. The phone clicked.
Rafe's mind was all over the place. Tomorrow, he'd be there, stared down by a crowd of neighbours, friends, acquaintances and, heck, even arch nemeses. It was too incomprehensible that he, of all others, would be hailed Mayor Of Avenir in a little less than twelve hours. Now, he just stood, frozen, replaying the conversation he'd just had with Mom and Dad.
"Remember to be yourself!" they'd say. It felt half-hearted, almost vacuous, but he knew they were just trying to encourage him. They were never great at cutting down on the clichés; it was like trying to tell Pop Star to produce anything less crappy; like telling a murderer to hand himself in. Rafe's mind was far from being itself. It wasn't at peace, it wasn't thinking about the book he'd just read, it wasn't thinking about what a girlfriend would be like. None of that mattered now. In lieu, it was scattered, thinking about there being no tomorrow (how great would that be?), and thinking about how awkward that eight-page speech was—is it too long? I checked the handbook ... wait, I'll check again ...
But his mind felt obliged to hold the horses. Curtain voiles collecting, vantage point fading, he was now as close to consciousness as a cat curled up around a fireplace.

Chapter One


The next thing he knew, his alarm clock rudely speared his rest. Last night, not even Rafe's subcontinental dreams could survive. This nerve was as relentless, as silent and as lethal as Agent Orange, except this one wasn't controlled. Instead, it was the mind's automatic, robotic reaction to terror or discomfort. The clock flaunted a bold 5:40am, a time only few got to see: Rafe was a frequenter of it, however. What with working thirteen and a half hours, you're obviously going to have to prepare as sedulously as a record breaker—and this was each day. On a three hour rest. Looking bedraggled (see what I did there?) as usual, Rafe sauntered to his bathroom sink, looking as if he was trying to imitate a zombie. Rafe, unlike any other, hated toothpaste with a passion. It was practically a torture method by his book. Alkalinity just didn't agree with him, yet another of his inexplicable idiosyncrasies. It was a squanderer, too—time stretched itself for those in discomfort. It seemed to enjoy watching those in pain, so much so to the extent that it, too, would taunt and torment. It was a cruel, heartless existence, one that could never, in almost every situation, do anyone any favours. And Rafe knew this: just as time passed for the ant under the shoe, it did for him. 5:50am. Bugger.
Time was a precious currency now, however: he had to be in the office by 7.
"Eh, just skip breakfast." Rafe's mind implored.
Next thing, he'd be forcing himself to sweat into an, albeit debonair, incredibly stuffy suit: I knew I should've taken the size 10. He'd be trapped in this coffin until he returned, when this'd all be over. He felt like one of those 1950's spies, except this time the villain was, ironically, the crowd which on-looked him as he delivered. After gathering his script, he forced himself into his £150 third-hand Ford KA, which showed signs of fatigue all the way down to the car door handle. All he could think about was this day's denouement, until this ordeal would end. Much like the toothpaste, this would last longer than it should.
After finding a parking space (huddled between two Mercedes estates), adrenaline was his petrol: it now kept him running, thinking and going.

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